English Sake Brewer Master in Japan: Phillip Harper (1)


A lot has been written and will be written both here in Japan and abroad on Phillip Harper as he has, with the likes of John Gauntner, Timothy Sullivan and Melinda Joe, established himself as one of the references proving once for all that Japanese sake has at last expanded beyond the confines of this island for the good of all.
It is only a question of time when sake breweries will become a part of life like wine and beer abroad as demonstrated by the five existing branches of large Japanese breweries in the United States employing a full American staff and Moto I, the entirely owned and run American Sake Brewery.


What makes the difference is that Phillip has gone as far as becoming the only foreign sake “toji”/master brewer in a Japanese brewery, namely Ki no Shita Brewery in Kyoto Prefecture!
An Oxford graduate hailing from Cornwall, it took him 18 years of sheer courage and guts to break into the closely guarded world of Japanese sake to gain recognition and earn his master brewer status in 2001.
The media (including The Los Angeles Times) finally take good note of his achievements when he was formally asked by Owner Yoshito Kinoshita to become his new Master Brewer (incidentally Phillip had already held that position in Osaka for two years).

I have always been intrigued by this fellow sake-loving foreigner, and when Melinda Joe and Etsuko Nakamura started sending me some of his bottles, I decided it was grand time that I atoned for my ignorance and tasted his sake which has won so many fans in Japan and abroad!

Before I continue with this first of three (and hopefully more) bottles tasting report, I would like to point out that some will not agree with my heavily Shizuoka sake influenced palate and my “wine” tasting methods (just can’t get rid of my Burgundian origin!). I will just invite them to drink, taste and compare notes!


Ki No shita Brewery (kyoto Fu)
Tamagawa (Brand name), Junmai, Nama Genshu (unaltered original pressed sake), Muroka (unfiltered), Kimoto (traditional brewing method)
Rice: Gohyakumangoku
Rice milled down to 77%
Alcohol contents: 19~20 degrees

Clarity: Very clear
Colour: Almost transparent
Aroma: fruity, banana
Body: Velvety
Taste: Strong attack backed by alcohol.
Dry. Complex. Shortish tail. Fruity: Musk Melon. Coffee beans and cherries appearing later.
Hold its own well with food with a light mellow turn.

Overall: A sake devised for food, especially heavy food.
Strong, almost aggressive sake with an uncompromising character.
Turns more complex with the second glass. Elusive at times, but always with a fruity note so remiscent of Musk Melon.
For strong sake officionados!


Like all the kimoto and yamahai sakes we do here, this was made without the use of anything but water, rice and koji. We do not
add cultured yeast or anything else to the mash. It is pre-Meiji brewing, and the kimoto under question is precisely the kind of sake that we read about in Meiji Period texts – SMV well into double figures on the plus side, junmai of course, acidity well over two, and comfortably at modern levels of alcohol.

The rice for the kimoto you tasted is organic Gohyakumangoku grown 15 miles away near the haunt of the Oriental White Stork/コウノトリ (as depicted on the label). The methods are different from standard organic rice farming, as the prime intention is to provide a habitat for these
amazing birds. As you can see from the red sticker, some of the
price goes towards a support organization. This project is all about the
birds, so it would be great if you could give them a plug. FYI, the original artwork is by Sakane Katsuke, an eminent artist who happens to be the boss’s brother-in-law and is also the creator of our excellent Tamagawa logo.

Must-see tasting websites:
-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery
Please check the new postings at:
sake, shochu and sushi


10 thoughts on “English Sake Brewer Master in Japan: Phillip Harper (1)”

  1. Oh heck! Robert-Gilles, Etsuko and I must have sent you the same kimoto! But I also sent you a gohyakumangoku “Tetsukezu” shiboritate that I hope you don’t already have…

    Okay, I will try again to surprise you!

    Thank you so much for your kind mention in the post, by the way.

    Cheers cheers,


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